Reflections on Norbertine Formation

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

As seen in the Spring 2017 issue of St. Norbert College Magazine

Unto the Next Generation

By Breanna Mekuly ’12

St. Norbert College

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., teaching at St. Norbert College | Photo courtesy of St. Norbert College (used with permission)

Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., teaching at St. Norbert College | Photo courtesy of St. Norbert College (used with permission)

The Rev. Matt Dougherty, O.Praem., ’09 is ministering alongside some of his own former mentors in a year of teaching on campus before he moves on to doctoral studies.

Dougherty is serving at St. Norbert in the theology and religious studies discipline, and also as vocation director and chaplain at the parish. “This is my first time teaching, and so far it’s been a blast!” he says. “I’ve always loved theology, and to talk to people about something (and some body – Christ!) you love for a ministry is such a blessing!”

Of other Norbertines who have recently taken vows, Dougherty is the only one currently teaching at St. Norbert.

“It’s great to have a lot of other young Norbertines in the community,” he says. At the same time, he’s enjoying the company and wisdom of elder priests in the order. “I am privileged to be able to live with guys who really formed and shaped St. Norbert Abbey and the college for the past 50 plus years. After all, the average age of the Norbertines at St. Norbert Abbey is around 74 years old! These men have so much wisdom to pass on to us young guys, and it’s great to hear their stories, and how things have changed over the years.”

Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., on his vestition day in 2009, assisted by Fr. John Tourangeau, O. Praem. Read more about vestition and the Norbertine religious habit in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 3) article, “De·con·struct·ing the Habit.”

Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., on his vestition day in 2009, assisted by Fr. John Tourangeau, O. Praem. Read more about vestition and the Norbertine religious habit in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Abbey Magazine (page 3) article, “De·con·struct·ing the Habit.”

Many of these men are the mentors who guided Dougherty through his own vocational discernment. He remembers the Rev. Jim Baraniak, O.Praem., ’88, the Rev. Tim Shillcox, O.Praem., the Rev. John Bostwick, O.Praem., ’68, and the Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem., ’50 – all present on campus while Dougherty was a student. They not only taught him theology, but also provided spiritual direction, confession, and even lessons on the history of the Norbertine order.

Though Dougherty’s current positions focus on religion and theology, he is academically as interested in learning more about freshwater ecosystems, or aquatic ecology. His undergraduate degree was in organismal biology and he has hopes to continue studying aquatic ecology at the doctoral level in the fall of 2017. He anticipates that this doctoral degree will allow him to teach courses at St. Norbert College in the science department, or possibly on the intersection of religion and science.

I love helping students be challenged and affirmed in their faith.

—Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem.

As a young priest working at the college, Dougherty says, “I’ve been afforded the opportunity to try to bring the Catholic faith and Norbertine charism to the next generation.” And this is important to him; he believes the Norbertine presence on campus is necessary to continue the Norbertine and Catholic identity of the college.

“I look forward to introducing the students to these values,” Dougherty says. “It’s a big task, but a rewarding one!”

He is most interested in sharing the Norbertine value of communio. The word, as he understands it, means “trying to live in unity with God and others within a locality.” Communio, he believes, should then “combat individualism and divisiveness by claiming that before God we are one family, no matter our differences, and therefore we have responsibilities toward each other.”

With this, he hopes that St. Norbert College students, faculty and staff will continue to foster Norbertine values by maintaining peaceful community – regardless of division – and then proceeding to build more such communities wherever they may go next.

Fisher of Men

“I grew up in Waukesha, Wis., and I come from a proud Irish-Catholic family. Fishing and hunting are my passions. I’ve been fishing since I was a little kid, and have loved it ever since. It’s hard for me to look at a body of water without getting a strong urge to grab a rod and reel. My interest in hunting came a little later in college, but still remains a passion of mine. Aside from the outdoors, I really like good literature, good cigars, and good discussions!

“I love helping students be challenged and affirmed in their faith. I found my faith as a freshman at St. Norbert. In it I found a new way of looking at the world, and it changed my life. I’d love to help other students have a similar experience.”

– The Rev. Matt Dougherty, O.Praem., ’09

As seen in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 14-15)

A Priest for the People

By Katrina Marshall

On June 6, 2015, Fr. Matthew Dougherty, O. Praem., was ordained to the priesthood.

Through ritual actions that contribute uniquely to the Rite of Ordination, he was given insight into his new identity. Of the major elements in this rite, first to occur was the Rite of Election, connecting the soon-to-be ordained with the faithful by asking their assent of his worthiness to fulfill priestly office. Bishop Robert Morneau (Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Green Bay) asked Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem. (representing the Norbertine community of St. Norbert Abbey and the entire People of God),

Do you know him to be worthy?

“You can’t help but feel humbled and a little bit nervous by that question, honestly,” shared Fr. Dougherty, reflecting on his ordination day. “Humbling is the best word. Because how can anyone be worthy—to perform the Sacraments, to follow Christ in that way? There’s a fear: am I really up for it? In a way, I’m not worthy. I don’t think anyone is worthy of such a gift.”

Following dialogue between Bishop Morneau and Abbot Neville affirming his worthiness, Fr. Dougherty received a lengthy round of approving applause—recognition of Christ working in him and an implicit invitation to enter into the lives of everyone.

“Amid feelings of unworthiness, to feel affirmation for my vocation through the applause was amazing,” said Fr. Dougherty. “Perhaps one of the most demanding pieces of priestly formation is coming to terms with one’s self: ‘Who am I to be a priest?’ Priesthood is an awesome gift and an awesome responsibility. These people are lifting you up to be their servant. By showing their assent, you are for them … to share in their most intimate moments, the ups and downs. Today, as a priest, I remain grateful. Never have I felt closer to God. Never have I experienced a stronger sense of identity or purpose. I am not a priest for myself, but a priest for Christ, his Church, and the world—I am a priest for the people.”

Religious Life is a Full Life / La Vida Religiosa – Una Vida Plena

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 2-3)

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

Br. Jacob Sircy, O. Praem., and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., walking in a Chicago South Side neighborhood.

By Fr. John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Translated by Sr. Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

Crash! Crash! Crash! The young Norbertines peeked out from behind the curtains in the rectory office to discover six or seven young men using an old railway tie to try to batter down the door. What to do? The fraters were alone in the rectory. It was nighttime in 1968. Finally, one of them—probably naïvely—decided to engage the gang members and went outside to confront them.

After a little yelling and ranting, the situation calmed down but the conversation continued. The gang members were curious about these white boys, who they were, and how they lived. As they heard that the religious lifestyle embraces vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the boys’ response was a mixture of awe and skepticism. The most memorable comment was, “You don’t have money; you don’t do drugs; you don’t have sex. What the ____ do you live for?”

Many people view religious life as a life of sacrifice; they see it in terms of what the vowed woman or man gives up. But this is a distortion, however innocent. While it is true that the vowed life involves asceticism, a distinct discipline, this way of living is ordered to maximum freedom—freedom for love, service, and community.

Commitment can be the path to freedom for any person. We all make choices that exclude other options. In marriage a person commits self to one person “forsaking all others” until “death do us part.” The vows of religious, or equally, of marriage, are not focused on deprivation, but on freedom. They are a purposeful choice for something that is perceived as a good, positive, and fulfilling way of living and loving.

Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The vows of religious are one time-tested and honorable way of living in that fullness.

Plena por Padre John Bostwick, O. Praem.

Traducido por Hermana Guadalupe Muñoz, RGS

(Ruido … Ruido … ) Los jóvenes Norbertinos se asomaron desde atrás de las cortinas en la oficina de la rectoría para descubrir a seis o siete jóvenes utilizando un palo viejo de ferrocarril, intentando destruir la puerta. ¿Qué hacemos? Los frailes estaban solitos en la rectoría. Era de noche en 1968. En fin, uno de ellos, a lo mejor ingenuamente, decidió confrontarlos y salió a ver que querían.

Después de un rato de gritar y argumentar, la situación se calmó pero la conversación siguió. Los miembros de la pandilla … curiosos acerca de estos muchachos vestidos de blanco … ¿Quiénes eran? y ¿Cómo vivían? … Mientras escuchaban que el estilo de vida religiosa implica los votos de pobreza, castidad y obediencia, la respuesta de los jóvenes era una mezcla de pavor y escepticismo. El comentario más memorable fue: “Ustedes no tienen dinero; no usan drogas; no tienen relaciones sexuales. ¿Para qué, viven … pues?”

Mucha gente considera la vida religiosa como vida de sacrificio; la ven en términos de lo que la mujer o el hombre con votos sacrifica. Pero esto es una distorsión, aunque sea inocente. Aunque es cierto que la vida con votos implica ascetismo, una disciplina distinta … esta manera de vivir produce la máxima libertad para amar y para el servicio en comunidad.

El compromiso puede ser camino hacia la libertad para cualquier persona. Todos hacemos elecciones que excluyen otras opciones. En el matrimonio una persona se compromete con otra persona “renunciando a todos los demás” hasta que “la muerte nos separe.” Los votos de religiosos, al igual que los del matrimonio, no se enfocan en la privación, sino en la libertad. Son una opción a propósito para algo que se percibe como manera buena, positiva y satisfactoria para vivir y amar.

Jesús dijo, “He venido, para que tengan vida y la tengan en plenitud” (Juan 10:10). Los votos de la vida religiosa son una manera probada por los tiempos y una manera honorable de vivir en esa plenitud.

Foundational Friendships

As seen in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 11-13)

By Judy Turba

In this world two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them. Life and friendship are nature’s gifts. God created us that we might exist and live: this is life. But if we are not to remain solitary, there must be friendship.

—St. Augustine

I recently had the privilege of interviewing three Norbertine seminarians: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

We discussed their life together within the Norbertine community, specifically their time at Holy Spirit House of Studies, the Norbertine home in Chicago, located near Catholic Theological Union, where they are pursuing graduate studies.

By living, working, and praying together throughout the past few years, these young men who once had been strangers have become not only brothers in Norbert, but also treasured and most likely lifelong friends. Here they share their journey of life and friendship.

from St. Norbert Abbey on Vimeo


Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

What are the joys and challenges of living in a home together, where you are responsible for cooking, cleaning, and other household chores, as well as praying and studying together? How has this environment enhanced your friendship with one another?

Deacon Mike: In America, we live in a culture that fosters individualism, where there’s not a lot of actual face-to-face interaction. Here, we rub elbows—we live together. And while we often study alone, Patrick, for instance, might suddenly pop in and say something like, “Talk to me.”

Frater Patrick: Or Mike will sneeze really loudly and I’ll yell back to him, “God bless you.”

4841: Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

4841: Holy Spirit House of Studies, Chicago

Deacon Mike: These little interactions really pull us out of ourselves. I think that’s one of the reasons many of us have chosen community life. We long for relationships. Our tradition understands the Trinity as the God of relationship. Sometimes we want to isolate ourselves from one another, but in the end it’s good to bump elbows, it’s good to have someone intentionally come into our space and say, “I want to hang out.” It gets us out of our own heads a bit.

Frater Jordan: When I was taking classes at Notre Dame last summer, I got a call from Mike or Patrick every week, or I called them. Being away made me really appreciate them and the Norbertine way of life. And making each of us better people is what religious life is all about: growing in “one mind and one heart on the way to God.”


Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., on their way to Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem., on their way to Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

Realizing all relationships include a bit of conflict or misunderstanding, or simply a case of others getting on our nerves, how do you three handle conflict when it arises?

Deacon Mike: One of the ways we deal with conflict is we have fun with it. We really do enjoy each other’s company and all of us are good at teasing one another. I have a tendency to be a bit loud and assertive. When that happens, I’ll be referred to as “coach.” Meaning I don’t have to go on and on as I sometimes do. But we definitely have some serious conversations, too, depending upon the person, the topic, and the day.

Frater Jordan: Depending on the day—that’s important—being able to really read one another before we bring out the teasing. Also, humility plays a part in this. I know I have my own quirks and there are days I’m not easy to live with. But humor can ease that tension. Fraternal correction is in our Rule, but it’s so hard to directly correct someone. Humor softens those edges.


Left to right: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.

Left to right: Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem., Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem.

Judith Viorst, author of Necessary Losses, asserts that it is much easier to stand by our friends in their sadness and their adversity, but that the true test of friendship is being able to stand by our friends in their joys and their successes. Is there truth for you in this statement, and if so, how?

Frater Jordan: I recently read that 94 percent of priests identify as “happy”—a rate higher than doctors, teachers, and lawyers. But most of the support and affirmation for these priests comes from family, friends, and people they shepherd; sadly, it does not always come from other clergy. We’re here to support each other when we’re down, but how often do we take time to celebrate each other’s successes? This is a challenge not only within priesthood, but also throughout humanity.


Fr. James Herring, O. Praem., Master of Professed and local superior at Holy Spirit House of Studies

Fr. James Herring, O. Praem., Master of Professed and local superior at Holy Spirit House of Studies

You pray together three times a day, everyday—Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Mass. How does this impact your friendship?

Frater Jordan: You heard us sing, Judy!

Deacon Mike: Yeah, it’s not always a “joyful song unto the Lord.”

Frater Patrick: I think prayer is time spent together in a special way, even though it can be a bit frustrating if someone is off pitch, or when I can’t get the right tones.

Deacon Mike: Living together, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. But it’s in communal prayer that I think we are most forgiving because everyone is making his best effort. In shared prayer, we are more charitable with one another—perhaps more so than in other aspects of life. When I’m away I’ll pray my breviary alone. But it’s worlds apart from communal prayer, which I desperately miss. Here in the house, praying together makes us more than roommates; we are a community of brothers.

Frater Jordan: I learned when people pray or sing or chant together, they start to breathe together, and their hearts become in sync. Even though there are differences among us, this aspect of our prayer life brings us together as Norbertines. Our lives are rooted in prayer.


Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem. (left), and Frater Jordan Neeck, O. Praem.

As you mentioned, none of you knew each other before you entered the community, yet today you call each other friends and brothers. What have these relationships brought to your life? How are you a better, more faithful Norbertine because of each other?

Deacon Mike: Patrick has this attention to detail, especially when it comes to anything liturgical or any project for that matter. While he might not be the first one to start the project, he’ll make sure it’s done right. He inspires me to be in tune to the sacredness of the liturgy. Jordan has a dedication to running and healthy living. Because of him, I’ve started running again and we both signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

Frater Patrick: Mike has a strong private prayer life, spending time in the chapel before communal prayer and at other times throughout the day. He motivates me to spend time on my own spiritual life. Jordan is a model of healthy living, consistently running and eating well. When it comes to academics he’s always on the ball. He never procrastinates. I trust both of them and am able to talk with them about deeper issues.

Frater Jordan: When Mike is passionate and on fire, he goes for it. He is extroverted. I tend to be introverted and have to try to be more outgoing. I admire his care and concern for other people. Whenever an opportunity arises to build relationships, Mike is always willing to take me with him.

Deacon Mike: I have really good college buddies, but I don’t have the day-to-day conversations with those guys that I have with two of my best friends right now: Patrick and Jordan. I anticipate having them walk with me throughout life. It’s a blessing to reflect upon the idea of friendship this early in our religious life, and to anticipate the ways that will challenge and benefit us as we live out our Norbertine vocation.


Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem. (right)

Frater Patrick LaPacz, O. Praem. (right)

Ideally, how do you imagine your friendship 10, 20, 30 years from now? What are your hopes and dreams, regarding not only your friendship with each other, but also relationships within your entire community?

Frater Jordan: A few questions were recently posed to us in class: How are we as Norbertines different from diocesan pastors? What is distinctive about our form of religious life, and how do we remain committed to it? For us, it’s not all about work. It’s also about community and being committed to one another. It’s about being intentional and constantly reminding ourselves about our commitment to one another. I’ll be there for my brothers, and I may have to sacrifice something at my work to be present to them.

Deacon Mike: I’ll be ordained a priest on May 27, and as I move closer to priesthood, I realize I’m not worthy to be a priest. None of us are. I’m not saying this in a self-deprecating way. As Jordan says, this life—this vocation—is such a grace. It reminds me how much I’ll need to rely upon my family, my friends, the People of God, my Norbertine brothers, and especially on God, for love and support.

To find out more about men in formation for the Norbertine priesthood, see the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Abbey Magazine (pages 8-10).

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